Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty republic. In June voters elected Ivan Duque Marquez president in elections that observers considered free and fair and the most peaceful in decades.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.
Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; reports of torture and arbitrary detention by both government security forces and illegal armed groups; corruption; rape and abuse of women and children by illegal armed groups; criminalization of libel; violence and threats of violence against human rights defenders and social leaders; violence against and forced displacement of Afro-Colombian and indigenous persons; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; forced child labor; and killings and other violence against trade unionists.
The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, although some cases experienced long delays that raised concerns about accountability. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP, or JEP in Spanish)–the justice component of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Non-Repetition–started operations during the year.
As part of the 2016 peace accord, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), formerly the country’s largest guerrilla insurgency group, disarmed and reincorporated as a political party that participated in the March congressional elections and initially nominated a presidential candidate, who withdrew from the race in May. On July 20, FARC representatives took up eight of their guaranteed 10 seats in congress.
The National Liberation Army (ELN) perpetrated armed attacks across the country for much of the year, particularly following the conclusion of a brief bilateral cease-fire, which lasted from October 1, 2017, through January 9. Peace talks between the ELN and Santos government concluded without resolution in August, and the Duque administration suspended talks until the ELN agrees to new preconditions for negotiations. Other illegal armed groups and drug-trafficking gangs continued to operate. Illegal armed groups, as well as narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of human rights abuses and violent crimes and committed acts of extrajudicial and unlawful killings, extortion, and other abuses such as kidnapping, torture, human trafficking, bombings and use of landmines, restriction on freedom of movement, sexual violence, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and intimidation of journalists, women, and human rights defenders.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Colombia Europe United States Coordination (Coordinacion Colombia Europa Estados Unidos, CCEEU), from January 1 through August, there were 27 cases of “intentional deaths of civilians committed by state agents” that included 34 victims.
For example, the Attorney General’s Office reported October 23 that eight members of the 29th Army Land Battalion attached to the Army’s Third Buffalo Company had been arrested and were under investigation for alleged crimes of aggravated homicide and attempted aggravated homicide in relation to the March killing of a peasant named Ciro Alfonso Manzano Ariza and attempted killing of Andres Fabian Salcedo Rincon in Arauca. An investigation by the Attorney General’s Office Special Investigations Unit, in conjunction with the army, revealed the killing was unrelated to a supposed confrontation. In a press release, the Attorney General’s Office stated its commitment to investigate and prosecute crimes of this type “so that these forms of violence do not continue to present themselves.”
Illegal armed groups including the ELN committed numerous unlawful or politically motivated killings, often in areas without a strong government presence (see section 1.g.).
Investigations of past killings proceeded, albeit slowly. From January 1 through July, the Attorney General’s Office registered one new case of alleged aggravated homicide by state agents. During the same period, authorities formally accused 123 members of the security forces of aggravated homicide or homicide of a civilian, almost all for crimes that occurred prior to 2017, and made one arrest. The Attorney General’s Office reported that through August, it obtained six new convictions of security force members in cases involving homicide of a “protected person” (i.e., civilians and others accorded such status under international humanitarian law), four new convictions in cases involving aggravated homicide, and 14 new convictions in cases involving “simple homicide” committed by security force members. Of these sentences, 23 corresponded to cases that took place before 2018.
For instance, on August 14, Jose Miguel Narvaez, deputy director of the disbanded Administrative Department of Security, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the 1999 killing of journalist Jaime Garzon.
There were developments in efforts to hold officials accountable in false positive extrajudicial killings, in which thousands of civilians were killed and falsely presented as guerrilla combatants in the late 1990s to late 2000s. During 2017 and through May 20, the Attorney General’s Office reported 246 members of the security forces were convicted in cases related to “false positives,” 716 cases were in the prosecution phase, and 10 new investigations were opened. In total, the government had convicted 1,176 members of the security forces in cases related to false positives as of May, including at least eight colonels, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
The Attorney General’s Office reported there were open investigations of 19 retired and active-duty generals related to false positive killings as of May. The Attorney General’s Office also reported there were 2,504 open investigations related to false positive killings or other extrajudicial killings as of May 20.
Additionally, the JEP reviewed some investigations related to false positive or extrajudicial killings. For example, on July 10, the JEP began to review the case against retired general William Henry Torres Escalante. Retired general Mario Montoya Uribe also chose to bring his pending case to the JEP. On August 10, after the JEP received his case, Colonel Gabriel Rincon publicly apologized for his involvement in false positive killings in 2008 in Soacha. More than 1,900 members of the armed forces signed a commitment to participate in the JEP’s processes.
In January media reports indicated the Attorney General’s Office intended to file charges of aggravated homicide against two members of the security forces in relation to the October 2017 events in the southwestern municipality of Tumaco, Narino Department, that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported resulted in the killing of at least seven persons, including two members of the Awa indigenous people and the wounding of 20 others.
Illegal armed groups, including the ELN and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed unlawful killings (see section 1.g.).
Human rights organizations, victims, and government investigators accused some members of government security forces of collaborating with or tolerating the activities of organized-crime gangs, which included some former paramilitary members. According to the Attorney General’s Office, between January and August 10, 83 members of government security forces were arrested for ties with illegal armed groups.
According to a December 26 UN report, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported 163 verified killings of social leaders and human rights defenders since the signing of the peace accord in November 2016 and a total of 454 cases reported. According to the Attorney General’s Office, 28 persons in 19 cases have been convicted in the killings of human rights defenders and social leaders. According to the Centro Nacional de Consultoria and the NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement, 70 percent of the killings occurred in eight of the country’s 32 departments: Antioquia, Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Narino, Norte de Santander, Choco, Cordoba, and Putumayo. The motives of the killings varied, and it was often difficult to determine the primary or precise motive in individual cases.
For example, on January 27, Temistocles Machado, a prominent human rights activist and Afro-Colombian community leader, was killed in Buenaventura in Valle Del Cauca. Former president Juan Manuel Santos requested the Elite Corps of the National Police to prioritize the investigation of the case, and authorities instituted proceedings against five persons as of year’s end.
On November 19, President Duque created the Commission of the Timely Action Plan for Prevention and Protection for Human Rights Defenders, Social and Communal Leaders, and Journalists (Comision del Plan de Accion Oportuna para Defensores de Derechos Humanos, Lideres Sociales, Comunales y Periodistas, PAO) to strengthen coordination including efforts to investigate and prevent attacks against social leaders and human rights defenders. Additionally, the minister of interior reported to the UN Human Rights Council in May that the government established an elite corps of the National Police, a specialized subdirectorate of the National Protection Unit, a special investigation unit of the Attorney General’s Office responsible for dismantling criminal organizations and enterprises, and a unified command post, which the minister stated shared responsibility for protecting human rights defenders from attack and investigating and prosecuting these cases.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year. According to the National Institute of Forensic and Legal Medicine, from January 1 through August 30, 3,643 cases of disappearances were registered. During 2017 the National Institute of Forensic and Legal Medicine reported 6,670 cases of disappearances. The government did not provide information on the number of victims of disappearances who were located or a disaggregation of the number found alive or dead.
For example, on October 3, unknown organized criminal groups abducted Cristo Jose Contreras, a five-year-old boy, in the municipality of El Carmen. After a large search and rescue operation, the boy was released one week later. In the context of the peace process, the government took steps to establish a new search commission to investigate disappearances (see section 1.g.).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the law prohibits such practices, there were reports that government officials employed them. The NGO Center for Research and Education of the Populace (CINEP) reported that through October, security forces were allegedly involved in six cases of torture. Members of the military and police accused of torture generally were tried in civilian rather than military courts.
For example, media reported Colombian National Police officers in Bogota allegedly forced several youth to strip to their underwear and beat them with a blunt object, while verbally abusing them in an incident caught on video that later became public. Authorities stated the incident occurred on September 28 after an escape attempt at the El Redentor Detention Center in which a scuffle led to the injuries of two police officers. Media reported that authorities had initiated criminal and disciplinary investigations into the case, which a prosecutor said met the legal definition of torture.
Between January 1 and August 10, the Attorney General’s Office charged 64 members of the military and police force with torture; in each case the alleged torture occurred prior to 2018.
CINEP reported organized-crime gangs and illegal armed groups were responsible for six documented cases of torture through June 30. Three of those cases were allegedly committed by FARC dissidents not participating in the peace process.
According to NGOs monitoring prison conditions, there were numerous allegations of sexual and physical violence committed by guards and other inmates.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
With the exception of some new facilities, prisons and detention centers were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate sanitation, poor health care, and lack of other basic services. Poor training of officials remained a problem throughout the prison system.
Physical Conditions: The National Prison Institute (INPEC), which operated the national prisons and oversaw the jails, estimated in 2017 there were 119,126 persons incarcerated in 135 prisons. A total of 69,276 persons were in pretrial detention. Overcrowding existed in men’s and in women’s prisons. INPEC cited several prisons in Cali, Santa Marta, Valledupar, Itagui, and Apartado that were more than 200 percent overcrowded. According to the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF), from 2006 until November, more than 234,000 minors had entered the criminal justice system through the Criminal Responsibility System for Adolescents. Between January and July, 64 children younger than age three were reported to be in prison with their incarcerated mothers.
The law prohibits holding pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although this sometimes occurred. Juvenile detainees are held in a separate juvenile detention center. The Superior Judiciary Council stated the maximum time that a person may remain in judicial detention facilities is three days. The same rules apply to jails located inside police stations. These regulations were often violated.
The practice of preventive detention, in combination with inefficiencies in the judicial system, continued to exacerbate overcrowding. The government continued to implement procedures introduced in 2017 that provide for the immediate release of some pretrial detainees, including many accused of serious crimes such as aggravated robbery and sexual assault.
Physical abuse by prison guards, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, and authorities’ failure to maintain control were problems. The Inspector General’s Office continued to investigate allegations that some prison guards routinely used excessive force and treated inmates brutally. The Inspector General’s Office reported 139 disciplinary investigations against prison guards, including 126 for physical abuse and 13 for sexual crimes.
During the year there were 501 deaths in prisons, jails, pretrial detention, or other detention centers, including 476 attributed to natural causes, 10 attributed to suicide, 10 in which the cause was unknown, and five attributed to accidental causes.
Many prisoners continued to face difficulties receiving adequate medical care. Nutrition and water quality were deficient and contributed to the overall poor health of many inmates. Inmates stated authorities routinely rationed water in many facilities, which officials attributed to city water shortages.
INPEC’s physical structures were generally in poor repair. The Inspector General’s Office noted some facilities had poor ventilation and overtaxed sanitary systems. Prisoners in some high-altitude facilities complained of inadequate blankets and clothing, while prisoners in tropical facilities complained that overcrowding and insufficient ventilation contributed to high temperatures in prison cells. Some prisoners slept on floors without mattresses, while others shared cots in overcrowded cells.
Administration: Authorities investigated credible prisoner complaints of mistreatment and inhuman conditions, including complaints of prison guards soliciting bribes from inmates, but some prisoners asserted the investigations were slow.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups. INPEC required a three-day notice before granting consular access. Some NGOs complained that authorities, without adequate explanation, denied them access to visit prisoners.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention; however, there were allegations that authorities detained citizens arbitrarily. CINEP reported 13 cases of arbitrary detention committed by state security forces through June 30.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Colombian National Police (CNP) is responsible for internal law enforcement and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense. The Migration Directorate, part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the immigration authority. The CNP shares law enforcement investigatory duties with the Technical Investigation Body. In addition to its responsibility to defend the country against external threats, the army shares limited responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. For example, military units sometimes provided logistical support and security for criminal investigators to collect evidence in high-conflict or remote areas. The government continued to expand education and training of the armed forces in human rights and international humanitarian law.
Some NGOs complained that military investigators, not members of the Attorney General’s Office, were sometimes the first responders in cases of deaths resulting from actions of security forces and might make decisions about possible foul play. By law the Attorney General’s Office is the main entity responsible for investigating allegations of human rights abuses committed by security forces. The government made improvements in investigating and trying abuses, but claims of impunity for security force members continued. This was due in some cases to obstruction of justice and opacity in the process by which cases are investigated and prosecuted in the military justice system. Inadequate protection of witnesses and investigators, delay tactics by defense attorneys, the judiciary’s failure to exert appropriate controls over dockets and case progress, and inadequate coordination among government entities that sometimes allowed statutes of limitations to expire–resulting in a defendant’s release from jail before trial–were also significant obstacles.
The military functions under both the old inquisitorial and a newer accusatory system. The military had not trained its criminal justice actors to operate under the accusatory system, which they were to begin to implement in 2017. The military also had not developed an interinstitutional strategy for recruiting, hiring, or training investigators, crime scene technicians, or forensic specialists, which is required under the accusatory system. As such, the military justice system did not exercise criminal investigative authority; all new criminal investigations duties were conducted by judicial police investigators from the CNP and Corps of Technical Investigators.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Authorities must bring detained persons before a judge within 36 hours to determine the validity of the detention, bring formal charges within 30 days, and start a trial within 90 days of the initial detention. Public defenders contracted by the Office of the Ombudsman assisted indigent defendants. Detainees received prompt access to legal counsel and family members as provided for by law. Authorities generally respected these rights.
Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, this requirement was not always respected. NGOs characterized some arrests as arbitrary detention: arrests allegedly based on tips from informants about persons linked to guerrilla activities, detentions by members of the security forces without a judicial order, detentions based on administrative authority, detentions during military operations or at roadblocks, large-scale detentions, and detentions of persons while they were “exercising their fundamental rights.”
Pretrial Detention: The judicial process moved slowly, and the civilian judicial system suffered from a significant backlog of cases, which led to large numbers of pretrial detainees. The failure of many local military commanders and jail supervisors to keep mandatory detention records or follow notification procedures made accounting for all detainees difficult. INPEC estimated that 33 percent of the country’s prison inmates were held in pretrial detention. In some cases detainees were released without a trial because they had already served more than one-third of the maximum sentence for their charges.
Civil society groups complained that authorities subjected some community leaders to extended pretrial detention.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Much of the judicial system was overburdened and inefficient, however, and subornation, corruption, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses hindered judicial functioning.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. While the government began implementing an accusatory system of justice in 2008, the use of delay tactics by defense lawyers to slow or impede proceedings, prosecutors’ heavy caseloads, and other factors diminished the anticipated increased efficiencies and other benefits of adopting the adversarial model. Under the criminal procedure code, the prosecutor presents an accusation and evidence before an impartial judge at an oral, public trial. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and have the right to confront the trial evidence and witnesses against them, present their own evidence, and communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense). Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal their proceedings. Although defendants have the right to an interpreter, the court system lacked interpreters for less commonly encountered languages. Crimes committed before 2008 are processed under the prior written inquisitorial system in which the prosecutor is a magistrate who investigates, determines evidence, and makes a finding of guilt or innocence. In those cases the trial consists of the presentation of evidence and finding of guilt or innocence to a judge for ratification or rejection.
In the military justice system, military judges preside over courts-martial. Counsel may represent the accused and call witnesses, but most fact finding takes place during the investigative stage. Military trial judges issue rulings within eight days of a court-martial hearing. Representatives of the civilian Inspector General’s Office are required to be present at courts-martial.
Criminal procedure within the military justice system includes elements of the inquisitorial and accusatory systems. The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to timely consultation with counsel.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The government declared that it did not hold political prisoners; nevertheless, authorities held some members of human rights advocacy groups on charges of conspiracy, rebellion, or terrorism, which the groups described as government harassment against human rights advocates. According to INPEC, the government held 776 persons on charges of rebellion or of aiding and promoting insurgency. The government provided the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regular access to these prisoners.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Citizens may sue a government agent or entity in the Administrative Court of Litigation for damages resulting from a human rights violation. Although critics complained of delays in the process, the court generally was considered impartial and effective. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the IACHR, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. The court may order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the individual injured.
The 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law (Victims’ Law) continued to provide a legal basis for assistance and reparations to persons, including victims of government abuses, but the government admitted that the pace of restitution was slow. The government did not provide information on the number of those registered who received some form of assistance. The Land Restitution Unit, a semiautonomous entity in the Ministry of Agriculture, is responsible for returning land to displaced victims of conflict.
The Land Restitution Unit reported it had reviewed 276 requests for collective restitution of ethnic territories, covering an area of 17.1 million acres, including 99,754 families, and 114,768 individual restitution claims, of which 15,899 were awaiting final judicial decision. The claims encompassed more than 12 million acres benefitting 52,017 families.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, but there were allegations the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Government authorities generally need a judicial order to intercept mail or email or to monitor telephone conversations, including in prisons. Government intelligence agencies investigating terrorist organizations sometimes monitored telephone conversations without judicial authorization; the law bars evidence obtained this way from being used in court.
NGOs continued to accuse domestic intelligence or security entities of spying on lawyers and human rights defenders, threatening them, and breaking into their homes or offices to steal information.
On August 4, the Attorney General’s Office arrested government agents, including three retired army officers, for illegal monitoring activities. Semana magazine alleged the agents illegally wiretapped government and private individuals. According to the Attorney General’s Office, six criminal investigations against state agents had been initiated for surveillance and illegal monitoring of private individuals.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were typically cooperative and willing to listen to local human rights groups’ concerns.
Several NGOs reported receiving threats in the form of email, mail, telephone calls, false obituaries, and objects related to death, such as coffins and funeral bouquets. The government condemned the threats and called on the Attorney General’s Office to investigate them. Some activists claimed the government did not take the threats seriously.
The government announced advances in the investigations into attacks and killings of human rights defenders and assigned priority resources to these cases.
Through August the Attorney General’s Office reported 37 active investigations, with eight persons charged, and no convictions in cases of threats against human rights defenders.
As of July 31, the NPU’s protection program provided protection to a total of 6,752 individuals. Among the NPU’s protected persons were 780 human rights activists.
To help monitor and verify that human rights were respected throughout implementation of the peace accord, the government formally renewed the mandate of the OHCHR in 2016 for a period of three years. The accord requests that the OHCHR include a “special chapter on implementation of the agreements from the standpoint of human rights” in its annual reports.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman is independent, submits an annual report to the House of Representatives, and has responsibility for providing for the promotion and exercise of human rights. According to human rights groups, underfunding of the Ombudsman’s Office limited its ability to monitor violations effectively. The ombudsman, as well as members of his regional offices, reported threats from illegal armed groups issued through pamphlets, email, and violent actions.
The National System for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law–led by a commission of 18 senior government officials, including the vice president–designs, implements, and evaluates the government’s policies on human rights and international humanitarian law. The Office of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights coordinates national human rights policy and actions taken by government entities to promote or protect human rights.
Both the Senate and House of Representatives have human rights committees that served as forums for discussion of human rights problems.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Although prohibited by law, rape of men or women, including spousal rape, remained a serious problem. The law provides for sentences ranging from eight to 30 years’ imprisonment for violent sexual assault. For acts of spousal sexual violence, the law mandates prison sentences of six months to two years. By law femicide is punishable with penalties of 21 to 50 years in prison, longer than the minimum sentence of 13 years for homicide.
Violence against women, and impunity for perpetrators, continued to be a problem. Members of illegal armed groups, including former paramilitary members, and guerrillas also continued to rape and abuse women and children sexually. For example, an August 1 report by the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia of the Organization of American States detailed its “concern about the continuation and, in some cases, exacerbation of violence against women and girls.”
The government continued to employ the Elite Sexual Assault Investigative Unit interagency unit in Bogota, which was dedicated to the investigation of sexual assault cases. From January to August, the Attorney General’s Office opened 28,942 new investigations for sexual crimes.
The law requires the government to provide victims of domestic violence immediate protection from further physical or psychological abuse. During 2017 more than 70,000 cases of intrafamily violence were reported.
The Ministry of Defense continued implementing its protocol for managing cases of sexual violence and harassment involving members of the military. The District Secretary of Women, in Bogota, and the Ombudsman’s Office offered free legal aid for victims of gender violence and organized courses to teach officials how to treat survivors of gender violence respectfully.
The law augments both jail time and fines if a crime causes “transitory or permanent physical disfigurement,” such as acid attacks, which have a penalty of up to 50 years in prison. Acid attacks remained a problem and predominately targeted women. In August a woman in Cauca attacked her sister-in-law with acid, burning the victim’s eye, face, and neck. There were no updates on advances in this case at year’s end.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but isolated incidents were reported in several indigenous communities in different parts of the country. Two-thirds of women from the Embera community had undergone FGM/C, according to the UN Population Fund.
Sexual Harassment: The law provides measures to deter and punish harassment in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, verbal abuse or derision, aggression, and discrimination, which carries a penalty of one to three years’ imprisonment. Nonetheless, NGOs reported sexual harassment remained a pervasive and underreported problem in workplaces and in public.
Coercion in Population Control: Coerced abortion is not permitted under the law. The law allows the involuntary surgical sterilization of children with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities in certain cases.
Through August 18, the Attorney General’s Office reported it opened 15 investigations related to cases of forced abortion.
Discrimination: Although women have the same legal rights as men, serious discrimination against women persisted. The Office of the Advisor for the Equality of Women has primary responsibility for combating discrimination against women, but advocacy groups reported that the office remained seriously underfunded. The government continued its national public policy for gender equity.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory in most cases. Most births were registered immediately. If a birth is not registered within one month, parents may be fined and denied public services.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was a serious problem. The ICBF reported between January and July 31, there were 8,039 cases of sexual abuse against children. According to the National Council of Economic and Social Policy (CONPES), the government reported in October that the ICBF had undertaken 740 instances to address violations against Venezuelan children.
Early and Forced Marriage: Marriage is legal at age 18. Boys older than age 14 and girls older than age 12 may marry with the consent of their parents. According to UNICEF, 5 percent of girls were married before age 15 and 23 percent before the age of 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children remained a problem. The law prohibits sexual exploitation of a minor or facilitating the sexual exploitation of a minor and stipulates a penalty of 14 to 25 years in prison, with aggravated penalties for perpetrators who are family members of the victim and for cases of sexual tourism, forced marriage, or sexual exploitation by illegal armed groups. The law prohibits pornography using children younger than age 18 and stipulates a penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for sexual activity with a child younger than age 14 ranges from nine to 13 years in prison. The government generally enforced the law.
According to the ICBF, between January and July 31, there were 151 reported cases of sexual exploitation of children. The Attorney General’s Office reported opening 837 investigations related to cases of child pornography and 334 cases of sexual exploitation of minors, with one conviction reported during the year. In July authorities in Cartagena conducted a three-day operation, arrested 18 persons, and charged them with the sexual exploitation of more than 250 women and girls. According to press reports, the trafficking ring was led by Liliana Campos Puello and retired marine infantry captain Raul Danilo Romero Pabon. Prosecutors alleged that some of the women and girls were tattooed and trafficked for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. Media reported authorities conducted several raids to dismantle networks of sexual exploitation of minors in Cartagena and other cities as of December 12. In total, 42 persons were captured and goods valued at Colombian pesos (COP) 154 billion ($49 million) were seized.
Displaced Children: The NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement estimated in 2016 that 31 percent of persons registered as displaced since 1985 were minors at the time they were displaced (see also section 2.d.). According to CONPES, the government reported in October that approximately 27 percent of Venezuelans registered in the government’s yet-to-be-released 2018 census were minors, of whom approximately half had received government services.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
The Jewish community, which had an estimated 5,000 members, continued to report instances of anti-Israeli rhetoric connected to events in the Middle East, accompanied by anti-Semitic graffiti near synagogues, as well as demonstrations in front of the Israeli embassy that were sometimes accompanied by anti-Semitic comments on social media. In particular the Colombian Confederation of Jewish Communities expressed concern over the presence of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Colombia, which aggressively promotes the boycott of Israeli products, culture, and travel and does not actively counter the conflation of anti-Israeli policies with anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law punishes those who arbitrarily restrict the full exercise of the rights of persons with disabilities or harass persons with disabilities, but enforcement was rare. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities but does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with sensory or intellectual disabilities. No law mandates access to information and telecommunications for persons with disabilities.
The Office of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights under the High Counselor for Post-Conflict, Public Security, and Human Rights, along with the Human Rights Directorate at the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. According to Somos Defensores and other NGOs, the law was seldom enforced.
Although children with disabilities attended school at all levels, advocates noted the vast majority of teachers and schools were neither trained nor equipped to educate children with disabilities successfully. Advocacy groups also stated children with disabilities entered the education system later than children without disabilities and dropped out at higher rates. Persons with disabilities were unemployed at a much higher rate than the general population.
In 2013 the State Council ordered all public offices to make facilities accessible to persons with disabilities and asked public officials to include requirements for accessibility when granting licenses for construction and occupancy. The State Council also asked every municipality to enforce rules that would make all public offices accessible to persons with disabilities “in a short amount of time.” It was not clear if much progress had been made.
According to the 2005 national census, the most recent census available at the time of drafting, approximately 4.5 million persons, or 10 percent of the country’s population, described themselves as being of African descent. A 2011 UN report estimated Afro-Colombians made up 15 to 20 percent of the population, while human rights groups and Afro-Colombian organizations estimated the proportion to be 20 to 25 percent.
Afro-Colombians are entitled to all constitutional rights and protections, but they faced significant economic and social discrimination. According to a 2016 UN report, 32 percent of the country’s population lived below the poverty line, but in Choco, the department with the highest percentage of Afro-Colombian residents, 79 percent of residents lived below the poverty line.
In 2010 the government approved a policy to promote equal opportunity for black, Afro-Colombian, Palenquera, and Raizal populations. (Palenquera populations inhabit some parts of the Caribbean coast, Raizal populations live in the San Andres archipelago, and Blacks and Afro-Colombians are Colombians of African descent who self-identify slightly differently based on their unique linguistic and cultural heritages.) The Ministry of Interior provided technical advice and funding for social projects presented by Afro-Colombian communities.
The National Autonomous Congress of Afro-Colombian Community Councils and Ethnic Organizations for Blacks, Afro-Colombians, Raizales, and Palenqueras, consisting of 108 representatives, met with government representatives on problems that affected their communities.
The constitution and law give special recognition to the fundamental rights of indigenous persons, who make up approximately 3.4 percent of the population, and require the government to consult beforehand with indigenous groups regarding governmental actions that could affect them.
The law accords indigenous groups perpetual rights to their ancestral lands, but indigenous groups, neighboring landowners, and the government often disputed the demarcation of those lands. Traditional indigenous groups operated 710 reservations, accounting for approximately 28 percent of the country’s territory. Illegal armed groups often violently contested indigenous land ownership and recruited indigenous children to join their ranks.
The law provides for special criminal and civil jurisdictions within indigenous territories based on traditional community laws. Legal proceedings in these jurisdictions were subject to manipulation and often rendered punishments more lenient than those imposed by regular civilian courts.
Some indigenous groups continued to assert they were not able to participate adequately in decisions affecting their lands. The constitution provides for this “prior consultation” mechanism for indigenous communities, but it does not require the government to obtain the consent of those communities in all cases.
The government stated that for security reasons it could not provide advance notice of most military operations, especially when in pursuit of enemy combatants, and added that it consulted with indigenous leaders when possible before entering land held by the communities.
Despite special legal protections and government assistance programs, indigenous persons continued to suffer discrimination and often lived on the margins of society. They belonged to the country’s poorest population and had the highest age-specific mortality rates.
Killings of members and leaders of indigenous groups remained a problem. According to the NGO National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, since the signing of the peace accord, 46 indigenous persons have been killed.
Despite precautionary measures ordered by the IACHR, ethnic Wayuu children continued to die of malnutrition. The United Nations and the government reported an increase in binational Wayuu families, including children, arriving in Colombia as a result of deteriorating conditions in Venezuela. Several hundred members of the Venezuelan Yukpa tribe crossed into Colombia in April due to deteriorating conditions in Venezuela. The government worked with the United Nations to provide the population basic services.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
There were no reports of official discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. A 2015 Constitutional Court decision required that the Ministry of Education modify its educational materials to address discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Transgender individuals cited barriers to public services when health-care providers or police officers refused to accept their government-issued identification. Some transgender individuals stated it was difficult to change the gender designation on national identity documents and that transgender individuals whose identity cards listed them as male were still required to show proof they had performed mandatory military service or obtained the necessary waivers from that service. NGOs claimed discrimination and violence in prisons against persons due to their sexual orientation and gender identity remained a problem.
Despite government measures to increase the rights and protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, there were reports of societal abuse and discrimination, as well as sexual assault. NGOs claimed transgender individuals, particularly transgender men, were often sexually assaulted in so-called corrective rape. The Constitutional Court pronounced in 2016 that transgender persons faced discrimination and social rejection within the LGBTI community and recommended measures to increase respect for transgender identities in the classrooms.
As of September 18, the Attorney General’s Office was investigating at least two alleged homicides of LGBTI individuals. Investigations into crimes committed by members of the security forces did not appear in the Attorney General’s Office system. NGO Colombia Diversa reported six cases, involving eight victims, of police abuse of persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, with the majority of complaints coming from transgender individuals.
NGOs reported several cases of threats against LGBTI human rights defenders, as well as a high level of impunity for crimes against LGBTI persons. Such organizations partially attributed impunity levels to the failure of the Attorney General’s Office to distinguish and effectively pursue crimes against LGBTI persons.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
There were no confirmed reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. In its most recent demographic and health survey (2010), the government reported the responses of 85 percent of those surveyed indicated discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV/AIDS, reflecting low levels of social acceptance throughout the country.